Showing posts with label meditation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meditation. Show all posts

Saturday, March 28, 2020

There are ONLY Opportunities! Why I am Optimistic

When tests in life come (as they must because they are portals to our own growth), put out the energy needed to deal with them creatively and with a positive attitude and you'll be victorious. Victorious isn't the same as winning. This virus might kill you; the crashing economy might bankrupt your business; your lifestyle may change forever, but if you "fight the good fight" you get to keep the victory (the satisfaction, insights, and knowledge) of having done your best, regardless of the result on the outer surface of life's ever-changing drama. 

I know there is suffering and death happening with the pandemic that is afflicting humanity right now. I don't want to be glib in the face of tragedy but statistics suggest to us that the overwhelming majority of humans will not die and relatively few will require hospitalization. 

The real "disease" is the fear; paralysis of will, despondency and even boredom. Grief one cannot help when a loved one suffers or dies.

I find it both amazing and inspiring to hear about all the creative ways people and businesses are responding appropriately to help others and to serve their customers. Curbside pick-ups, drive-throughs, and delivery options have been catapulted into daily life. Gardens are being planted around the world to grow real food for life. People are reaching out to check on and help one another. 

Medical protocols and technologies are rapidly changing and emerging to respond to the overwhelming needs in this worldwide challenge. Health care providers and many others are rising heroically to the challenges they face. 

I read an article attributed to Bill Gates (but not verified by me) but which, no matter who wrote it, made valuable and inspiring insights into the results of this pandemic. Regardless of the authorship, some of the simple and obvious points, paraphrased or rephrased, but well worth thinking more deeply about include:

  • The virus doesn't exempt the high and mighty from its wrath.
  • What we do affects one another. 
  • Borders and passports have no authority here.
  • Our health and life are precious to us all.
  • We need to consume food that is healthy and not contaminated with chemicals.
  • To live, we need air and water that is not contaminated. 
  • Life is short and uncertain. We should re-examine our life's priorities to nurture our heart's finer feelings, not just our heads, bodies, and wallets.
  • Helping others brings us greater satisfaction than seeking status and wealth. 
  • We are being forced to stay at home because we have neglected to create happy homes where children are loved and cared for with wisdom.
  • A strong ego is necessary for survival and success but it must be held in check, taking into account the realities and needs of others and the world we live in.
  • We have the free will to cooperate and help one another or to be selfish.
  • Patience comes when we see the larger picture of time and cycles, knowing that "this too will pass." Suffering and deprivation will pass too. To panic is lose our reason and to succumb to "fight or flight."
  • We have the opportunity for a new beginning or to bemoan an end. We can be creative and find new ways to live; to live more simply; to live sustainably on this earth; to live with respect and cooperation with others; and so much more.
  • We are sick because our earth is sick. Our earth is sick because we have made it sick by greed and neglect.
  • Life's ultimate purpose is a spiritual one: to raise our energy and consciousness beyond the limited self to include others and the Creator of Life.
There are so many innate benefits to what we are experiencing they are too numerous to list. Yes, it takes a global pandemic to get large numbers of people to change their habits and lifestyles. Yes, much wealth in the form of ones and zeroes will vanish. But if that's what it takes, then it must be good. 

Yoga practice is one of the many beneficiaries of the times. It's true that yoga studios are closed but with more time and with a desire to remain healthy and fit while having to remain "sheltered in place," online yoga practice has been catapulted into center stage. Same can be said (to a lesser degree) about the daily practice of meditation. As it used to be said in the last so-called "world war," "There are no atheists in foxholes." Prayer is spreading as fast as the virus.

While there is much to decry about substituting online learning and sharing for in-person education and relationships, nonetheless there's no going back as it relates to the willingness of people to learn in this new way. It opens the door to so much more for so many.

I am positive and optimistic about the coronavirus pandemic's impact on human consciousness. In the meantime, I do my best to stay healthy and positive, to reach out, to share what I am able to share, and to appreciate people, nature, and life ever more deeply. 

But my greatest joy and appreciation go to the living presence of God in the form of my guru and lineage, and to my teacher who watches over his large family from his omnipresent blissful consciousness above.

Joy to you,
Swami Hrimananda










Saturday, March 21, 2020

Are Yogananda's Predictions of Challenging Times About to Begin?

This question surfaced in a recent email from an Ananda member. While the occupation of making predictions is one to be avoided, it is impossible not to ask this question (for those of us who are familiar with Yogananda's warnings given publicly during the last few years of his life (which ended March 1952).

Many of you (readers) know well these warnings because Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, repeated them often.....all the way to his passing in 2013.

So, yes, of course it's a good question. On the other hand, the thought of our being yet another "doom and gloom cult" is distasteful to me and to you, too, I am sure.

Interestingly, Jesus Christ predicted pretty much all the same things, or so he was quoted in the New Testament. Thus it is that such predictions can be viewed from the inner side of the soul's personal journey, or (or is it AND/OR) from the outer side of history. Surely warfare, violence and pestilence have never ended in the history of humanity! So predictions of doom and gloom are always BOUND to come true at some point.

Nonetheless, Yogananda, the guru and spiritual teacher for many of us and an inspiration for millions, and, Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder and inspiration and guide (and friend), have shared these warnings.

So, for what it's worth, my two cents is YES. We are on the brink of an immense change in history. 70 years since the last so-called "World War" is probably a record stretch of relative peace: punctuated as most of the people in the world know all too well with endless series of rebellions, conflicts, ethnic cleansings, and mini-wars (and a few lesser mini-pandemic threats).

Why bother to make note of the belief by millions (of us) that humanity needs to wake up to the unsustainability of our rapacious, unconscious lifestyle?

To humor my odd sense of humor: here's what my personal crystal ball is showing me. (You can take this to the bank....more bad humor, sorry.) An economic downturn, aka depression, the like of which history has never seen. The impact of this is too immense to even bother to quantify. It makes the COVID-19 virus seem small by comparison.

From the collapse of the wealth of nations and people will come war, disease and the usual panoply of humanity's griefs. I'm not going to repeat the details of what Swami Kriyananda shared of Yogananda's warnings as it is not important right now for you and me. What is important is to "see" that life is not returning to normal.

Now, it's true, as it is in every disaster (natural or man-made), there are some who will in fact not only prosper (economically) but who will rise to the occasion with courage, enthusiasm, creativity and inspiration. For these, it will be the "time of their life!" There will also be scoundrels. Gun sales, I have read, are up. Lawlessness is certain to increase. We have already seen an increase in burglaries.

So what it means for you personally is impossible to predict. It could, in fact, mean little or nothing at all. But you'd be foolish to make that assumption. The karma that is unfolding is, like a world war, bigger than an individual and will engulf millions if not billions.

Most of my readers probably meditate, pray, and serve. Most of you are followers of Yogananda and likely members of Ananda worldwide. So we already know that "the only way OUT is IN." Inner strength; devotion; care for others; meditation; prayer....we acknowledge that death and disease (as Lord Buddha came to see) is a common lot of all beings. Why fuss over it beyond taking care of the body temple "for God-realization."

So these reflections do not have for their purpose a call to action, per se. Rather, let us adjust the glasses through which we see the world and see what is, I believe and many others as well, a world in partial dissolution and partial recombination. Yogananda, through his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, sees our planet in an upward arc of awakening though we are yet in a relatively materialistic age: an age of buy and sell; what's in for me; but also awakening to our interconnectedness.

So unlike some doom and gloom sales pitches, this is NOT the end of the world. It's the inevitable trauma from the breakup of an old-world structure and the emergence of a new world consciousness. After difficult times, Yogananda predicted there would be 200 years of world peace (because we'd be sick of warfare!)

But lest you, like many of us in the 1960's, imagine life is going to suddenly be wonderful: forget it! The rich will always govern and, to quote Jesus Christ, "the poor you have always with you." It is the expansion of awareness of global consciousness that is the requisite emergent change. This awareness can be plundered for personal gain or offered on the altar of global good.

In time, that is to say, in the centuries to come, the rigidity and fixity and prejudice of religion, nationality, race, caste and gender will steadily dissolve into acceptance of differences as manifestations of a shared and beneficent reality. the differences don't need to change. It's attachment and fixed identification with them that will soften.

Harmony with Mother Earth and all creatures will eventually surface as an accepted goal by at least a majority.

In the meantime, however, there is a "war' to fight: fear vs courage, for example; selfishness (hoarding) vs sharing; faith vs hopelessness; God realization vs Ego affirmation. It is an inner battle, not an outer one. Paramhansa Yogananda thundered: "The time for knowing God has COME!" (Through meditation and kriya yoga). THIS is the spiritual purpose for individuals all the time, but especially now for us as a whole.

For those of us who are active, participating and committed members of Ananda worldwide: We were born for this and trained for this by Swami Kriyananda.

"The only way OUT is IN!"

Joy is within you.

Swami Hrimananda
Seattle WA

Monday, March 16, 2020

"Even a Little of this Practice Will Save You from Fear and Suffering" - a Simple Meditation

The title above is a paraphrase of Verse 40, Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita. If ever fear and suffering were a worldwide epidemic it would be now in the midst of this pandemic! And if ever there was a simple practice that could bring calmness and confidence to millions, this is a good time to share it.

There is so much being communicated about this crisis that it would futile for me to add to the burden of so much rapidly changing information, advice, and speculation.

Without denying the suffering, fear, economic losses and isolation being experienced around the world, I want to focus on the "silver lining" in this virus-infested cloud called COVID-19.

Millions are home from work with their families. They may be playing with their children; reading a book; gardening; spending time with loved ones. Admittedly, some are without family and are home alone. But all are potentially reaching out via the phone or social media; some are greeting neighbours (from a safe distance). Millions are concerned for others. Many are focusing on staying healthy through exercise and diet. What a great time to think more deeply about what is important in life: friendships, health, positive attitudes and spiritual connection.

I hope that some of these positive attitudes, experiences, and behaviours will outlast the pandemic.

But what was Lord Krishna referring to in the above-quoted stanza from the famous dialogue which is the literary format of the beloved "Gita?" He was referring to the practice of meditation and the attitudes and wisdom from which meditation arises. Meditation is an impossibly ancient practice. But now's not the time for discussing the history and evolution of meditation.

Most readers of my blog already practice meditation. So it would seem that I am "preaching to the choir." But with so much being shared worldwide among friends, why not share the practice of meditation?

First a simple meditation. Then, some links to more complete meditation routines. There are hundreds of meditation apps, maybe more even. But when one is new to something on what basis does one choose if not on the basis of the recommendation of a friend? And isn't friendship, caring, and connection the theme of our present circumstances? So, let's meditate! Here we go:

Sit upright but in a relaxed and alert natural posture: chest up slightly; head level; shoulders relaxed; palms upward on the thighs. Open or close your eyes as you feel. (As you internalize it will be natural for most people to close their eyes.)

Take a few long, slow but enjoyable breaths. Let the "stomach" (actually, the diaphragm) expand out as you inhale slowly. As the inhalation progresses you will feel your rib cage expand outward to the sides. Then, finally, as you complete the inhalation, the upper chest may rise just a little. Don't force it, however. Like the strokes of the brush of an artist, your controlled breathing should feel "right" not forced.

You may pause briefly at the top of the inhalation but it is not necessary. Exhale with a controlled release. The exhalation can be slightly longer (if you were timing it) than the inhalation. You can pause or not pause after the end of the exhalation but just continue this controlled breathing for at least three to five breaths.

Usually, three to five breaths will trigger a sense of increasing calmness, but if not, continue for a while and learn to anticipate a sense of peace and quiet satisfaction coming over you. Then cease your controlled breathing, and sit quietly. Relax not just your body but your mind. Since the mind is happier if we give it a focus, let that focus be on your natural (no longer controlled) breathing. Observation of the breath is a time-honoured and universally effective practice. Your observation can be in the chest (lungs etc.) or in the flow of inhalation and exhalation in the natural channels of the nose.

If your mind needs a bit more to chew on, create a word formula or a personal affirmation. “I am peaceful; I am calm; I am confident”.....etc. etc. Don't TRY to concentrate. Relax into interested attentiveness to your meditation practice. It's the same attentiveness you might apply to watch a movie, read a book, engage in a sport or exercise, or cook--anything, in short, that you WANT to do!

At the end of your time (it's not length of time; it's QUALITY of calm focus and resulting peacefulness), ask your intuitive self a question that might be on your mind. Ask in positive, not negative terms. In your calm state, be open to a variety of answers, even one that your mind might otherwise reject. Feel calm and be open to “hear” what is the right action or attitude to take in that situation. If nothing appears, then pose alternative solutions to your intuitive mind.

Or, at the end just bring to your mind the image or name of a loved one, friend, neighbour, or co-worker who could use a little "peace of your mind" for their health or daily life. Send that "peace" to that person without any consideration of desired results. It's a peace gesture, in other words. And right now, who doesn’t need a piece of “peace!”


You see: it's THAT simple.

Here are some links to other guided meditations:


In your smartphone's Play Store search on Ananda Meditation App to download and a wide selection of meditations and much more!

Share, then, a "little of this practice" with friends and family!

Joy to you,

Nayaswami Hriman








Friday, November 15, 2019

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators Who Want the Monkey to Mind

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators:


I should add: "newly discovered" for me! I stumbled upon some things I'd like to share. (Even if, there's nothing new under the sun of wisdom.)

1. One's heart rate needs to be slowed before the monkey can relax. A very simple breathing exercise will help: breathe through the nose using a long slow and smooth breath. Let the exhalation be slightly longer than inhalation. Let the breath flow continuously without pauses at the top of inhalation or at the bottom of the exhalation. Of course, there are numerous traditional pranayamas to use also but you do need to know how to use them properly. The most important clue for the success of pranayama is the quieting of the heart and slowing of the breath rate. Some techniques produce a sensation of coolness; others, of warmth. But if your heart is beating faster after the exercise than it was before, then you'd better let that one go or learn how and when to use it correctly!

I have learned that controlling the heart is more than just mechanics. Conscious intention and awareness are very important. Try this exercise: when calm and with eyes closed, "intuit" the experience of breathlessness! Look up and open your mouth with a soft, one-second intake of breath. Hold that pose and feel the heart. You can also stop and calmly fix your gaze on any object with your mouth slightly open and your eyes "wide" (see number 3 below).

When meditating, try to feel, intuit or imagine space in the body. Our body is 99.999% space (scientists tell us). Then expand that awareness out and around you further and further. Notice if your heart rate drops!

2. Try relaxing the tongue during meditation. Let it relax and slide gently and just slightly back into the mouth. It may help to open your mouth just slightly. The tongue is what we talk with. Even mental self-talk can stimulate the nerves in the tongue into readiness to speak! As the tongue, so the mind. As the mind, so the tongue.) [Of course, the gold standard is to place the tongue into Khechari mudra. but that's another and a longer story.]


3. Position of the eyes. No doubt readers of this article already know to position your eyes upward, gazing gently through the point between the eyebrows. In the yoga tradition, this is called Shambhavi mudra. This alone helps greatly with quieting the self-talk. Implied in the experience of Shambhavi mudra is a little-known effect: dilation of the eyes. Try this little trick for dilating the eyes. Lift your gaze with open eyes. Hold your arms out at eye level with the index finger on each hand pointing to the ceiling. Slowly move your arms apart from each other to the furthest points where your eyes can still see both upraised fingers. Notice if this doesn't quiet the mind instantly. After you find this gazing position, close your eyes and begin your meditation as usual. (You may have to do this several times during meditation or for a few days or weeks to have it become natural. P.S. The eyes should never "cross.") 

Why does this work? My understanding goes something like this: the analytical mind tends to keep the narrative going when we are looking at ONE thing. But the feeling or observing part of the mind overrides the analytical brain when simultaneously viewing two or more objects. (A picture, being worth a thousand words! Two pictures, two thousand!) 

In the practice of the Hong Sau technique, we are given the instruction to keep the gaze upraised behind closed eyes while feeling the breath flowing up and down in the nostrils. These two focal points constitute TWO objects being observed simultaneously. While this is true, the dilation technique I think is more sustainable, especially for new meditators. 


Try the dilation method (without necessarily using the arms) even during the day (probably NOT when driving a car) and see if you don't experience an instant quieting of heart and mind, and relaxation throughout the muscles! This can be done simply by becoming aware of what is at the edges of your peripheral vision when looking at any one point in front of you, especially with eyes slightly raised.

4. Re-think the Ajna chakra (6th chakra) at the medulla. We are taught that the spiritual eye (point between the eyebrows) is but a reflection of the 6th chakra which is located at the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (and in the back of the head). For this purpose, let's exclude the crown chakra (the Sahasrara) viewing it as not being a chakra but, being instead, the transcendent consciousness of the soul (which, let's face it, is somewhat aloof). 


Therefore, experiment with viewing the medulla as the final chakra at the top of the spine. Focus your attention during meditation in the medulla with the idea that it is from the medulla that you are gazing up and forward to the point between the eyebrows. Visualize this, as I do, as the "theatre of the soul" gazing up at the screen where the inner light may appear.


A new technique I learned for feeling the position of the medulla goes like this: sit up straight in meditative posture. While keeping your head level, rotate your head side to side (not too far to either side) back and forth four or five times. Imagine that the head remains centered, rotating to the left, back to center, and to the right in a continuous motion seated on a small post, the thickness of your thumb and located just inside the back of the head above the neck. The area that you feel from this exercise you may consider to be the medulla oblongata (the seat of the ajna chakra).

Therefore, during meditation, center your attention in the medulla. This will help keep your head level (chin level). Too many meditators tilt their head back (lifting the chin) while straining to place their energy at the point between the eyebrows. See if this re-focusing of your attention at the medulla helps ground your meditation, keeping you in the conscious mind even while your upward gaze indicates that you are receptive to the superconscious mind. Too often we focus so intently upon the forehead that our head tilts up and we get "disconnected" from the rest of the body and the other chakras. The result is that we are tempted to mentally drift away or maybe the monkey mind feels free to leap about and do cartwheels and handstands on the stage of our attention. 


Another way to express the effect of the head tilted upwards at the chin, is that this "pinches" the medulla (Ajna) chakra and chokes off our connection with especially the heart. The heart holds one of the keys to quieting the monkey mind. When the heart is calm and at rest, so follows the mind. Think of one of those perennially contented souls one meets here and there. No surfeit of mental agitation have we!


Refocusing your awareness to the medulla will require some practice and reorientation. Ultimately it really isn't a change from making the spiritual eye your focus but it is, in fact, more natural since the ego is said to be centered in the medulla. Until the ego is lifted up out of itself, moving naturally forward to the spiritual eye, the ego is the one practising meditation!


5. The tingles! A sign to look for as you go deeper in meditation (as your heart rate decreases), is a tingling sensation on the surface of the body (the skin). Perhaps your hands, resting on your thighs, begin to feel heavy, even warm. Perhaps your upper body has an energy or tingling feeling all around. Or, perhaps your lower lip feels different (as if the blood is draining away from it). It is no coincidence that yogis often meditate without a shirt. The shirt, by touching the body, interferes with the awareness of this sensation. 


In its initial stages, we actually feel MORE sensitive (just as when you have sunburn or a rash you may not want to wear a shirt). As prana is drawn into the center of the body, certain sensations result. They are somewhat similar to falling asleep except that we can't notice them because we are "falling" asleep! These can include becoming suddenly aware of tension or aches and pains. Other symptoms might include sudden itching, tickling in the throat or nose, yawning or swallowing compulsively (though these also have other sources for their appearance). 

But the "tingles" is a sign to you that you are internalizing your awareness and the prana is following your attention inward. Put another way, these sensations are not problematic but natural. However, this doesn't mean every meditator will or must experience these sensations.


Well, that's it for now. Try some of these and let me know what you think. Just remember that we are all a bit different. Not every technique works the same for every meditator. 

Inhale, exhale, "stop, look, and listen!" (Here comes the train of peace gliding soundlessly down the tracks of your mind.)

Swami Hrimananda, the
Not (yet) wandering sadhu

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Is the Bliss of Meditation for Real? "No-Bliss-Oblige?"

I began my life of meditation from the orientation of snippets of Buddhism. I say "snippets" because whatever I thought I learned was most likely inaccurate or at least spiritually untested. 

But when in my search I also encountered the Yoga-Vedanta-Sankhya traditions, I was suspicious because the references to bliss or divine joy seemed to me to smack of duality. 

In fact, just the other day, after a talk I gave at a Sunday Service at a Unity church, someone politely cornered me to question my references to bliss and the joy of the soul. This couple challenged me, in a friendly sporting way, relying as they did on teachings from a more Buddhist perspective. They described the ultimate state of the soul as beyond states of joy or bliss.

I've heard it said that in some Buddhist teachings bliss is said to be but a stage on the journey to enlightenment but not the final state of consciousness.

The very language we use when we use the word "bliss" or "joy" naturally seems to suggest a dual state in which someone, an "I" is feeling some feeling called blissful. Hence, by the very definition of non-duality, the very self-awareness of such a feeling cannot be the final state of being. Or so the logic goes.

Paramhansa Yogananda described eight aspects of higher consciousness, one of which is joy and another, love. Swami Kriyananda would comment occasionally in describing love as, in some subtle way, almost a lower state than joy (or bliss) for the very same, or nearly same reason: love suggests a relationship: I-Thou. I don't think he meant this literally because even I can feel "loving" without the necessity of a person or a thing being the object towards which my love is directed or from which my feeling of love is stimulated. Feeling "loving" can arise from within.

Swami Kriyananda did quote Yogananda as saying joy is a safer aspect of the soul's nature to emulate or strive to express than love because humans all too easily "fall in love" with another person (or thing).

Then there is the testimony of saints that say that immediately prior to their enlightenment comes the "dark night of the soul" or the tempter (Satan, maya, etc.) during which the inner light (another of the eight aspects) vanishes and only darkness remains. 

There are saints, including Lahiri Mahasaya, who make references to high states of consciousness as places of dark-less light, light-less dark and so on. 

Finally, all great mystics admit, one way or another, that the final state of being is beyond name, form or description (even if they try by poetry or imagery to convey).

And on a more mundane but at least a relatively more accessible level of human experience, the testimony of deeply sincere meditators over decades of living and practice demonstrates that while they may be generally described as joyful persons, they do not laugh off pain and suffering, whether their own or that of others. 

When Swami Kriyananda first wrote the ceremony Festival of Light (used on Sundays at Ananda churches especially in America), he had a sentence that read: And whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for joy.

A few years later he edited the end of that sentence to read ...."has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."

As with the word "love" connotes merely human love, so the term "joy" cannot be extricated from the our response to, say, winning the lottery. Thus the term "bliss" is often used to elevate the implied meaning of divine joy to something more than merely egoic or of the conscious mind.

Partly then we have an issue of language. And partly the question remains whether or not the dissolution of the separate ego-self results in any awareness that includes a "feeling" experience such as joy.

Well, let's face it: the testimony of the masters, the saviors, the avatars, gurus, and saintly souls tells us that what they have found or become is worth every bit of the effort taken to re-discover it. I think that qualifies to be called "bliss?" 

Paramhansa Yogananda said "Yes." The Adi Shankaracharya said "Yes." He described the non-dual state with the term Sat-chit-ananda. Loosely translated by Yogananda as "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy." It might be stretched to say it is a state of immortality, omniscience, and bliss. The term describes the nature of God, the state of samadhi, and the nature of the soul.

Yet it is also true and discoverable by any serious devotee and meditator, that there ARE states of consciousness, in prayer and meditation, wherein feeling of any kind is held in abeyance; feeling is latent like an undercurrent, just behind one's steadfast awareness. It cannot be said to be no-thing, nor can it be said to be any-thing. It simply IS. 

In his autobiography, Yogananda was challenged by a saint when asked: "You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava? Don't mistake the path for the goal. Yogananda commented that the saint was reminding him to love God more than meditation. Perfect stillness (awareness without a manifested feeling of any kind), then, is not, itself the goal. It is not a state of Oneness beyond one's personal consciousness.

Then there are other experiences wherein one is absorbed in a feeling state such as peace, calmness, joy, love or subsumed in the power of subtle sound or inner light, or transported in a flash of instantaneous perceptive images or insights (similar to what is described as the life review at death or near-death). 

Such experiences can enter one's consciousness as if about to dissolve one's separateness; or, one's little self expands into the experience such that the self no longer matters and barely exists. Time begins to slow to a standstill.

Put another way: Infinity embraces all! As Ananda-moyi-ma described God: “It (the Spirit) is, and It isn’t, and neither is It, nor is It not.”

A saint can manifest dryness or joy, asceticism and renunciation, or enthusiastic engagement, creativity, compassion and joy. It is and it isn't!

The ray of divine vibration which descended through Paramhansa Yogananda and the lineage which preceded him is, however, characterized by joy!  But that joy, like devotion, like the higher inner states of meditation, can nonetheless be subtle or hidden from outward view in a particular devotee. Look at the eyes, however: do they glow with joy? Infinity? Light? Calmness?  

It is not surprising that in our efforts to share the teachings of Yogananda we frequently reference or express joy as an overarching characteristic. Yet power, too, is an aspect of God. Yogananda could be very powerful at times. 

Great saints do differ in what qualities are made manifest in their lives and thus in the lives of disciples who are in tune with them. Yet as Swami Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, was a Gyanavatar, he didn't "convert" Yogananda from being a bhakti, a Prem-avatar (of love and joy).

Yogananda had a life such that he was at ease in a wide variety of situations and seeming "moods." He was, in a sense, very "human." Indeed, fully human. 

Unlike aspiring saints who may have to hold back or to express austerity as part of their journey to enlightenment, Yogananda was born free, a purna avatar. It's not that he flaunted proper behavior, ethics, and the do's and don'ts of life (like some aspiring saints have done to show their avowed non-attachment to sense indulgences or unethical acts). 

Rather, he was freely expressive. His behavior was natural and unpretentious. These qualities, too, can be seen in his disciples. Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda, was a friend to all; unpretentious and natural in his actions according to circumstances.

Finally, we must simply admit that terms like "bliss" or "joy" only really have meaning in their being manifested in observable human consciousness and actions. 

By contrast, in an uplifted state of consciousness, in a state of samadhi, applying the adjectives of "bliss" or "joy" simply no longer apply except perhaps afterwards in an effort to share some aspect of what the soul experienced. 

It is and it yet it isn't. We can say samadhi is blissful and yet we must also say samadhi isn't limited by anything, including bliss. It simply IS. When awareness and feeling merge in pure consciousness, you cannot extract the one from the other. But neither would you trade it for any dual state of consciousness.

The "beamers of bliss" are right and the "no-bliss-obligers" are right. My lifelong mantra and response to life's ups and downs remains intact: BOTH-AND.

Joy or no-joy, I remain unshakeably the same, your own Self,

Swami Hriman-non-Da! 


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ode to Forrest, Forrest Gump!

The movie, "Forrest Gump," is based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom and was made into a movie in 1994 starring Tom Hanks. Quite apart from the scenes of a historic period in America (the 1960's, the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon), the movie's enduring charm stems from the inspiring, timeless, and yet timely messages bottled within the labyrinth of its plot.

"Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." This is perhaps the most popular quote for which Forrest Gump is famous. It is a lesson he learned from his "momma." In this simple metaphor of a box of chocolates, we are reminded to take life as it comes, with non-attachment and even-minded cheerfulness. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") put it this way: "What comes of itself, let it come. All circumstances are neutral, he went on to say, but appear positive or negative according to the attitude of the mind. I'm sure Forrest (if he were to think about it but probably wouldn't bother) would agree with Yogananda's statement that there are "no obstacles; only opportunities" in life.

In the movie, Forrest carries with him that box of chocolates. It's as if, with each new episode, he reaches into the box with his eyes closed to select another piece of chocolate. This box of chocolates is, metaphorically speaking, the source of Forrest's ability to take life as it comes to him. It is detachment worthy of a great yogi!

With this "yogic siddhi" of non-attachment (psycho-physiological power) comes to Forrest additional qualities such as acceptance: self-acceptance and acceptance of others and of life as it flows by him. He is a witness to history even as yogis are a witness to their thoughts and the flow of life's energy within themselves and all around. But he is also a willing participant in history, doing what life calls him to do in each moment. He's an unwitting football star when that is needed; an unselfconscious hero in battle; a friend in need and even when rejected.

This power of acceptance is vibrantly clear in his relationships: with his love, Jenny; with his war-friend, Bubba; and with Lt. Dan. In each case, he takes his friends as they are and himself at face value: as his own sincere and well-meaning Self.

With Jenny, he feels her childhood pain from abuse and wants only to protect her. He wants nothing from her, though everyone else seems to. His love is selfless and without condition.

With Bubba, neither race nor social status means a thing to Forrest. He risks his own life in the Vietnam War to rescue his friend Bubba. And when that fails, he immortalizes Bubba by buying a boat to do shrimp fishing (which was Bubba's hope and dream when he returned home). This lead to his establishing the financially successful Bubba-Gump Company and sharing the profits with Bubba's impoverished family!

With Lt. Dan whom he also saves from certain death in the same war, he receives nothing but anger, reproach, and verbal abuse. Yet, later, when Forrest is shrimp fishing, Lt. Dan suddenly appears on the scene. Forrest immediately accepts and embraces his friend who while "shrimping" together with the ever-content Forrest is at last healed of his grief, resentment, and anger at life's cruelty.

While I surely am not the first person to express these responses to the otherwise simple, if popular, movie, Forrest Gump, it struck me anew the other day to write these words.

I like to imagine (in jest) that Forrest single-handedly created behavioural psychology when he responds to being called "stupid" saying: "Stupid is as stupid does!" (One's consciousness is manifested by one's actions!)

Simplicity; purity of heart; willingness and practicality in action; acceptance; loyalty to friends and purpose; spontaneity (as when he suddenly is prompted from within to begin running: running back and forth across America with no thought of "tomorrow" or how he would survive, eat, or be sheltered).

"O Father, Lord of Heaven, you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." (Matt 11:25) Forrest Gump's life revealed the secrets of happiness. It would not have fit the movie to have introduced a religious theme because, for the message the movie conveys, it is complete. Forrest could have easily been re-cast into a saint but then the movie would never have achieved any recognition or popularity.

Forrest Gump symbolizes everything our society is not: innocence. It's wonderful that moviegoers enjoyed an evening's entertainment, but I think Forrest Gump has much more to say to us. Each generation needs a movie like Forrest, Forrest Gump. Don't you think?

"Life is like a box of chocolates" whose sweetness is found in innocence and acceptance.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Is Ego Good or Bad?


We say someone has a “big ego” and we know that this is not a good thing. Yet, we probably also know that some of those who have accomplished great things in the world could be described as having “a big ego” or at least a “big aura,” and maybe more of the former than the latter.

Some years ago there was a lot of talk about building self-esteem in children. Indeed, much of the training and education of a child is directed towards learning skills and gaining self-confidence. Now that I am a grandparent I watch with some interest and a newfound nonattachment to how much effort adults expend eliciting a child’s likes or dislikes. It seems instinctual to help a child to develop their ego from its amorphous and helpless state at birth to that of a strong, balanced, intelligent, healthy adult.

Among the traits of the ego that are helpful and necessary is taking responsibility for one’s life, developing will power, not blaming others, learning to forgive, learning to accept what can’t be changed: just to name a few. Among the valuable traits that reflect both a strong ego and one that is not excessively self-involved are kindness, thinking of the needs and realities of others, unselfishness, generosity, and creative solution-seeking: in short, the Golden Rule!

Is that all there is, then, to this ego-thing? Pet dogs and kiss babies, so to speak? Be good and you’ll surely go to heaven? If you are reading this you already know that’s not where this conversation is going!

The Vedantic path and teachings of the ages and sages offer to us a vision of reality that avers that the ultimate creator and purpose of the creation is to pierce the veil of illusion of our separateness and reunite with the only reality that is permanent, beyond suffering, and permanently satisfying: God (or Bliss or whatever name you prefer).

So on the ego-thing, we have some who say the ultimate state of existence (usually called heaven) is that we keep our egos and we rest happily forever praising the Lord, strumming harps, engaging in angel-like good deeds, or enjoying the everlasting pleasures of heaven.

Others say, “No way!”  We “kill” the illusion of a separate self (ego) and disappear into the great Void.

Photo by Patricia DeAnguera
 And, they say further, that on the threshold of this dissolution we experience momentarily the bliss of release from suffering caused by egoic consciousness but then we vanish without a trace into the No-thing-ness out of which all things have come. Hmmmm: a kind of spiritual suicide wish? I’ll take rain check, thank you.

Another version of egoic dissolution says that the Void is actually not empty but full: full of bliss! Bliss, in other words, is not temporary or born of the duality of separateness. Instead, the very nature of God (the ultimate state or reality) is Sat-chit-anandam: ever-existing (immortal), ever-conscious (omniscient), ever-new bliss. At least in this version we have something to look forward to.

This is the Vedantic version espoused by Paramhansa Yogananda. While this is a one version of ego transcendence, Yogananda took the explanation one step further in an interesting twist. Yogananda added that inasmuch as Infinite consciousness must, by definition, contain all that is past, present or will be or can be in the future, then there must be contained in Infinity the living “memory” of all those lifetimes during which my soul was misidentified AS the doer, as the ego. Well, ok, you say, but so what?

The “but” here is intended to provide an explanation for another phenomenon of the spiritual path. The explanation starts with this precept: no one can achieve Self-realization without helping others. It’s not that your final liberation awaits their own but nonetheless, you must become, towards the end of your journey, the guru to other souls. Yogananda said, in fact, that the minimum number of souls is six.

(I have no idea why six. Six chakras? Who knows. I am fairly certain he was not the first to make this statement but I accept that the principle is intact even if "why the number six" eludes me.) 

The annals of spirituality include innumerable testimonies that to disciples the guru comes in vision or in actual living form even though the guru is no longer on the planet in human form, having “died” days, weeks, or centuries past. Some, like Krishna or Jesus, may well have even incarnated into new human forms since the time of that particular incarnation as Jesus or Krishna. Yet, they appear in the form held dear by their devotee.

Yogananda thus says that out of the Infinite (the Akasha), the devotee’s devotion calls forth the past form of the guru, notwithstanding that the guru is no longer in that form, or perhaps in any form whatsoever. 

There is, as a bypath, testimony that saints, while still living in their human body, can appear in vision or dreams to disciples and yet they have no awareness or recollection of this fact, having perhaps been even asleep at that particular moment! It is the soul, in other words, that is ever-awake and eternally present.

Lastly, Yogananda stated that even an avatar—one freed from all karma and who returns to human form as a savior—must don the trappings of ego in order to function distinctly in a human form. The difference between the avatar and most of us is the degree of identification with that form and that personality. 

In his famous poem, “Samadhi,” he writes “I, the Cosmic Sea, watch the little ego floating in Me.” Yogananda defined ego as the soul identified with the body (which includes the personality).

So we are still faced with the question: is the ego real or not? Is it “bad” or “good”? The answer? It depends!

Like Moses in the Old Testament of the Bible or Bhishma of the Indian epic the Mahabharata, the ego can awaken to the desire to be free of its own limitations and hypnosis of separateness but its very nature IS separateness. The ego can work to grow spiritually but there comes a point (after countless efforts to do so) where it must offer itself into the Infinite (or at the feet of the guru, the Lord, etc etc).

We are given the survival instinct for a reason greater than just the survival of the body. No such instinct could be at odds with the truth of our Self. If all reality has as its basis pure Consciousness than the “I can never die.” The question is “Who am I?” Am “I” the body and personality? 

As Bhishma, symbol of the ego in all, was heralded as a great hero and a man of dharma, so too our ego, in its essence, need not be identified with the material world, the body, likes and dislikes, and the senses. 

Without the power of individuation, this world could not exist. The so-called “Divine Ego” is the pure ego, free of identification with thoughts, emotions, and the world of matter and senses.

But while the ego has great power it can obviously greatly become steeped in delusion. For its re-awakening, another outside influence is needed. The power of God using the human channel of the guru can resurrect the soul’s memory of its true nature. The soul, in attunement with the guru, can then direct the ego in right action and right attitude until the ego at last offers itself in final surrender into the Infinite at which point the ego can be said to dissolve or to expand into Bliss.

At the moment of final surrender, the ego must accept the possibility of its extinguishment but this is its final test. It must face the abyss of nothingness and surrender to it before it can enter into "the kingdom of heavenly bliss." I call this moment the "dark night of the ego."

May you slay the Og(r)e of Ego that the Soul may reign on the Throne of God's Bliss, our true home!

Swami Hrimananda

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to be Thought-less!

Paramhansa Yogananda, in his now-classic life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes yoga as "a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit." (Chapter 24).

From Chapter 41 of that modern scripture Yogananda gives this challenging poem from one "of the many great saints of South India...., Thayumanavar:

You can control a mad elephant;
You can shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger;
You can ride a lion;
You can play with the cobra;
By alchemy you can eke out your livelihood;
You can wander through the universe incognito;
You can make vassals of the gods;
You can be ever youthful;
You can walk on water and live in fire;
But control of the mind is better and more difficult.

Stilling the agitations of the "monkey mind" is the subject and goal of countless meditation techniques and millions of meditators alike!

Ramana Maharshi is one of the most notable 20th-century advocates of Advaita (non-dualism), particularly in what he termed "Self-inquiry:" the quest to know "Who am I?" The great teachings of East and West essentially urge us to "Know Thyself" and discover "Tat twam asi" (That Thou Art). Watching one's thoughts and/or breath are among the ubiquitous and universal techniques of focusing the mind in order to still the "natural turbulence of thoughts."

Techniques are given, and there are many, to help focus the mind in order to reach the point beyond our thoughts. Too many meditators mistake the path for the goal and continue with their mantras, devotions, prayers, or breathwork "until the cows come home." The cows, that is, of their returning thoughts.

Why is so little attention is given to the cessation of what one teacher calls the "self-structure." The small self (ego, subconscious, etc.) is a little dictator whose mission is to keep us focused on our body, its needs, and to protect, defend and affirm the personality (ego.) It does a good job from a Darwinian point of view but it doesn't give us anything beyond a fleeting and insecure fulfilment and a deeply entrenched habit of restlessness. Praise, one day, blame, the next.

For starters, almost nobody on this planet is the slightest bit interested in the cessation of mental activity called "me." After all, didn't Rene Descartes tell us that "I think, therefore, I AM?" For another, the cessation of mental activity is very, very hard (note poem quoted above). And for those very, very few who make a deep and sincere effort, what they get for their reward is that their ego-self gets to stare into the abyss of nothingness, facing the prospect of its dissolution! So no wonder even meditators take the equivalent of a "rain check!" 

[In a humorous aside, Swami Kriyananda, in his landmark book on raja yoga, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," gently chides the Buddhistic tendency to focus on negative aspects of enlightenment (a state of no-thing-ness (nir-vana)) as the reason the enlightened ones, Bodhisattvas, chose to defer their liberation and come back to help others!]

But what, then, is the reward of making the effort? To quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "Even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings." I'd add to this that the benefits of meditation, speaking generally and clinically, derive from the very effort to focus the mind inwardly and away from the senses, body, and ego. In an analogous manner, sleep too is essential for mental and physical well-being.

Thus I don't feel to dwell on the reasons the effort, challenging as it seems, is more than repaid. Besides, too great a focus on "what I get from this practice" will tend to undermine "what I get from this practice!" All great teachers of meditation caution that non-attachment to results--even of our meditation--is essential to success in every endeavor, including meditation. Besides, the reasons to meditate are as varied as those who practice it. 

How, then, best to focus the mind and transcend the thoughts? On this, too, I have to concede that the prescription is individual. There are many meditation techniques, philosophies, and, as stated just above, reasons to meditate. A strict approach, such as Ramana Maharshi's practice of self-inquiry, is probably too austere for most modern (and restless) minds. It is termed, in the yogic tradition, the approach of gyana yoga. Krishna states that meditating upon the formless (no-thought, or Absolute) is difficult for the average human. 

A devotional approach satisfies the heart's natural yearning to be loved and to love. One can meditate upon the image, feeling or thought of one's chosen deity, guru, or even an abstract principle such as love itself! But our culture is far from one that is comfortable with devotion, being, as we are, so fixed upon reason and analysis.

An energetic approach has the advantage of not requiring a complex belief system and is epitomized in the universally popular and useful approach of mindfulness: using the breath as the meditation object (with or without a word formula or mantra). In this Age of Energy, let "pranayam be your 'religion'" to quote a chant popular with Swami Sri Yukteswar!

Deeper practices of energy-meditation may involve a focus on the flow of subtle energy (prana or chi) in the chakras or the deep spine. The most well known of these is termed, simply, Kriya Yoga and was popularized by Paramhansa Yogananda (see Chapter 26 of his autobiography mentioned above).

What's wrong with thinking, you ask? The thinking and intellectual function of the human mind is a mixed gift: it is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thinking is necessarily logical and dual: this is not that, and that is not this! The intellect is a natural extension of the ego for it focuses on naming, labelling, distinguishing, and using for its advantage or protection the objects of the senses (people or things or forces it can control).  It has been well said that the mind makes a great tool but a poor master. 

Thus it is, by tradition from higher ages of consciousness, the power of the intellect (which can reveal the secrets of nature) is supposed to be given to or used only by one who has become identified with the soul, or higher Self. In such a case, this power is used for the good of all and not for self-aggrandizement or exploitation. It is obvious that at this time in history, this is far, far from the case.

Since the mid 20th century, it has often been said that humanity stands on the brink of self-destruction owing to our mastery of the tools of thinking, reasoning, analyzing and manipulating nature's secrets but that we have yet to save our souls! We have focused too greatly on the outer world at the expense of the inner world of consciousness. To this day, scientific dogma still insists that consciousness is the mere byproduct of matter, the brain, the body and evolution of the species. Reflection, and only a little is needed, would reveal the opposite: "I AM, therefore, I think!"

Thus it was that the noted historian Arnold Toynbee stated that while the west has conquered the east with its guns, the east will conquer the heart of the west with yoga. 

And finally, let me share this simple, uh oh: thought! The Thought-less Yogi emerges from the effort to still thoughts randomly throughout the day NOT just in the practice of meditation but between activities; before a phone call or email; at a stoplight. You learn to bring the monkey-to-heel by living increasingly in the "witness box" of the higher mind. This can be achieved whether your temperament is devotional, perceptive, or active. 

The state beyond thought, the transcendently aware state, must be felt, or intuited, not conceptualized. It is the portal to higher states of superconsciousness. As in Yogananda's quote above, the still mind "glimpses" our true nature as Spirit, as the formless I AM of all humanity, all creation, and of the Godhead. 

So train your monkey to be still and FEEL the stillness wherein no thoughts intrude. You may find it helpful to bridge ego consciousness to higher consciousness through the medium of a visualization from which you then extract the FEELING of transcendence. Examples include the image of the bright blue, cloudless skies on a sunny day; the vastness of the ocean when perfectly calm; the majesty of a great mountain; the roar of wind or water overtaking you; vastness of space in all directions; or the silvery-beam of moonlight filling you with deep peace and transcendent love. 

Once the raft of techniques has brought you to the shore, discard the raft and enter into PURE FEELING; PURE AWARENESS with no name, no form, no object to behold.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, June 17, 2019

How Can I Find that Perfect Job?

A person wrote to us with this question:

In Scientific Healing Affirmations, Paramhansa Yogananda says that we attract material success by obeying the conscious, subconscious and superconscious laws of material success. I would like to attract to myself a job which uses my God-given talents, my strengths, and helps me to relate to my higher self. Is it possible to attract a job to oneself by concentrating on the subconscious and superconscious laws alone? 

My response to this question was put this way:

Dear Friend,

When Paramhansa Yogananda uses the term "superconscious" he is not referring to a level of consciousness that is OTHER THAN divine! Think of the "superconscious" as being the soul: a reflection of God (the Christ or Krishna consciousness).

The significance of this is that this method does not automatically remove from our life the accumulated karma that we have created from the past. When you write ".....to attract a job to oneself by concentrating on......ALONE" you imply that this power of attraction is centred in the ego but that is NOT what Yogananda means when he uses the term "superconscious laws of material success." Or, perhaps you mean that these methods work without regard to one's personal karma. 

The principle and power of non-attachment apply in this case lest by will power you achieve your job but find yourself enmeshed in creating more karma for yourself. In fact, the laws of success as Yogananda outlines them very much includes non-attachment to the results. It's a fine line, do you see? Success combines the highest of will power, energy and creativity with non-attachment and surrender to the divine will. (Actually, it is not so much SURRENDER as ATTUNEMENT AND HARMONY with the divine will, but the difference is mostly in the words not in the reality of consciousness required.)

As a devotee and meditator, strive for freedom from karma by devotion, self-effort, attunement, and selfless service. Material success and creative engagement WILL COME when it is yours to come. On the other hand, if the success of this outward variety is your priority apply your will and attune your soul to the guru and if and when material success is yours, and especially for your soul's freedom, it will come as day follows night. 

Live in the present thought that such a job is yours already and is the gift of God. It awaits only time and place but in the eternal now it exists already.

Remember that if such a perfect job were yours today but is received without divine attunement, you will find it falling short of satisfaction like the string that Yashoda used to try to tie to baby Krishna to keep him from being naughty!

Pray: "Beloved Friend, God: I seek to serve you in a capacity that brings to me creative engagement with my divinely-given strengths and leads me to freedom in Thee. Bless my efforts with success that I might reflect Thy joy and serve other souls! Thy will be done!"

Blessings and joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Is Being "Nice" Enough? Story of the Angry Saint Durvasa and the Flawed Warrior, Karna!

The heroes of legend are often characters both great and sometimes greatly flawed: just like most of us. 

At Sunday Service recently as a guest speaker with Padma, my wife, at the Ananda Church in Palo Alto, CA, I shared a simplified version of the story of Karna, one of the great warriors and tragic figure of the world's longest epic, the Mahabharata (the source of India's greatest scripture, the Bhagavad Gita).


 Despite being a great warrior he was handicapped by the need for recognition and the concomitant commitment of unquestioned loyalty to anyone who awarded him honor and love. His blind loyalty caused him to follow one who was, himself, dishonorable and provoked in Karna ignoble acts. Karna did feel remorse for his misdeeds but he met his death in the great war of Kurukshetra owing to both his virtues and his flaws which were exercised nobly but without discernment. Nonetheless, despite what could easily be judged his failure, he was honored after his death by Krishna for his unstinting generosity, strength and prowess in war, and self-sacrifice. 

Members of various faiths, spiritually minded, are exhorted to be good and to manifest virtue and integrity in their lives. Seen from the point of view of their opposites, who can argue? How much better a place our planet Earth would be if everyone were, simply, "nice."

As a member of a worldwide faith community known as "Ananda" I could be described as a Self-realizationist! Prayer, meditation, fellowship, study, giving and serving are, like most all faith traditions, an important part of my life. It's a good thing to try to be "nice." But it's also important to be honest, especially self-honest: in fact, ruthlessly self-honest! Sometimes our flaws act as the sand in the oyster of our soul which, over time, produces the pearl of great price.

I've been struck, so to speak, numerous times, with the contrast between those with no faith but who are infused with great integrity and virtue being contrasted with fellow religionists who seem all-too-fatally-flawed and difficult to get along with.

I recounted in that Sunday Service talk in Palo Alto that in the game of golf there is a rule that no matter where the ball lands, one must, if at all possible, play the ball (hit the ball) where it is found. (One is not supposed to touch the ball.)

No matter how poorly a "hand" (of cards) that life (our karma) deals to us, we must play the game of life with what we are given. Being born in a family of criminals or in a crime-infested neighborhood exposes us from an early age to the temptation, perhaps even the practical necessity, to engage in criminal acts.

Or, being born with the proverbial silver spoon of entitlement and privilege, we are a paragon of virtue, gentleness, refinement and compassion.

The history of saints, East and West, is riven with characters who didn't always play the game of life according to the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.
The famously "angry" sage, Durvasa, whose short fuse was legendary was the one who gave to the teenage girl, Kunti, the mantras to invoke various gods with whom to mate and produce offspring. Her innocent curiosity to use one of the mantras invoked the sun god from whom she conceived and later gave birth to Karna out of wedlock. 

Her fear of shame caused her to send the infant down the river in a basket (as, curiously, happened to Moses) thus setting the stage for Karna's existential insecurity about his not being accepted by others (for what was wrongly assumed to be his low-caste birth).

A person difficult to get along with might, nonetheless therefore, be a saint in the making by struggling to overcome certain non-virtuous traits. Another person born to innate sweetness may, in fact, be spiritually coasting along on good karma. 

The "nice" person may be offended by the unruly one but this may be a test of just how even-minded and ego transcendent the "nice" person really is. Not that this justifies being hurtful or unkind, but, spiritually speaking, we should be careful about our assessment of ourselves or others.

Swami Kriyananda recounted a beautiful story from the life of St. Therese of Lisieux. She was a novice mistress. Some of the nuns came to her and said “Why do we have to have some of these nuns here who are just so unpleasant? They wash the clothes in such a way as to deliberately get suds in the eyes of others who were helping!” You think in a convent, people shouldn’t act like that. But people are people, and their peopleness will come out. [laughter] You know what she said? “If we didn’t have such people, we would do well to go out and get them, and bring them here.” 

Yogananda put it another way: we cannot win the love of God until we can win the love of at least one other person (including and perhaps especially those who do not "like" us). I am not inclined to take this literally but in principle, I think the message is clear. 

So if you happen to be one of those difficult people, at least consider, as honestly as you can, just how deeply sincere are your efforts at self-improvement and, more importantly, how deep is your love for God and truth. "God doesn't mind our faults but seeks only our love (and interested attention!)," Yogananda would say to others. Don't pride yourself on your testiness, as if to justify your faults, but don't give up, either. "God watches the heart" Yogananda would also say to comfort and challenge devotees. 

And if, instead, your mouth has the silver spoon in it, watch the degree to which you take personal offense at criticism, especially when it is deemed (by you) to be unwarranted or unfair, for of such are the tests of karma and of God. Be at least inwardly thankful for whatever hurts you might receive that your "niceness" be honed by wisdom. Don't let your goodness be merely a show or worse, hypocritical.

Jesus warns us not to consider ourselves "good" for the fact that we love those who love us. Love is indeed the overriding aura of sanctity but so also is wisdom. God's love can sometimes be well disguised, masked that we might unmask the true Doer behind all seeming.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Friday, April 12, 2019

What is the Deeper Meaning of Easter?

Why Celebrate Easter?

The feast of Easter is observed primarily with images of bunnies, chocolate goodies, beautiful flowers, colorful new clothes, and for millions, a once-a-year visit to a church service. Few contemplate seriously the meaning of Easter beyond its outward observance. So let us step back and take a few minutes to consider the meaning of Easter to our own lives.

For starters, let us acknowledge that Easter is inextricably linked to the tragedy of the crucifixion. This is the way of the world where light alternates with darkness. But it’s deeper than that because, for one thing, the crucifixion was not a tragedy except in a very human sense, and for another, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has far more significance to us personally than its simple (if dramatic) narrative would suggest.

Jesus’ resurrection represented a victory: a victory over physical death; a victory over those who condemned him to death; a victory over those who accused him of blasphemy for affirming his own divine nature; a victory over those who doubted or scorned his legitimacy as a spiritual teacher.

But that victory could not have been a reality were it not for his crucifixion. It is not necessary to believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection to distil meaning from it. By contrast, it is not as difficult to accept the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion! But let’s see them as symbols for realities in our own, personal lives.

The ever-present and timeless message of these dramatic events is that the “death” of selfishness and egoity is the price of the soul’s resurrection. Egoity and selfishness we are familiar with, but the existence and nature of the soul is elusive to our day-to-day conscious awareness. For most people, the soul is only experienced in peak moments of transcendent joy, unconditional love, or the intensity of sacred experiences. Few people seek ego transcendence as a means to achieve soul-realization because few have awakened to the truth that the soul is the source of finding lasting happiness.

This message is the eternal “religion” and it is the core message of the movement known as Self-realization. Meditation is the means to this end. Stilling the natural tumult of our senses and mind reveals the eternal, changeless, blissful light of our soul.

Jesus accepted the divine will in accepting the yoke of crucifixion. Prior to his capture by his self-styled enemies, he briefly prayed that this yoke might be lifted. The answer to his prayer could not be granted and he accepted it without resistance. This models for us our response to the yoke of our karma, the suffering that comes inevitably in living life in a human body. Suffering can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual but we have no need to define suffering. Pleasure and happiness can also find expression in these ways and, however transient, should also be accepted calmly. Only spiritual “happiness” requires no opposite in order to exist because it is our very nature.

This has nothing to do with whether we should seek abatement of suffering or the righting of wrongs. It is our ego-instinct to deny or repulse (or, for pleasure or happiness, our instinct to grasp) that creates the pendulum of unceasing action and reaction which is called karma. By calm acceptance and by neutralizing the reactive process through daily meditation, we achieve the freedom from all suffering and the state of true joy. This neutralizing process is enhanced by devotion and selflessness. Whatever proper action is dictated by the experience of sorrow or happiness is a separate matter and is not precluded by the fact of our acceptance.

The meaning of Easter is also embodied in the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as a true “son of God.” Not the ONLY son of God, but an avatar: a descent into human form of a perfected soul sent back to transmit to truth seekers the hope, promise and power of transcendence. Other souls, too, such as Buddha, Krishna, Moses, and Yogananda, to name but a few, have come and will return again and again to guide entire families of souls toward the Light.

Jesus’ narrative is a dramatic one for he came at a time in human history where only an extreme example could awaken sleeping souls to their own highest potential as “sons of God.” As stated in the first chapter of the gospel of John: “And as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

The Easter celebration thus holds a two-fold message for all humankind: the way to lasting happiness lies in overcoming egoity in order to achieve Self-realization; and, that wayshowers such as Jesus the Christ show us the way to live in this world; they stand poised to transmit the power of soul consciousness to those who “receive them.” We cannot achieve the “pearl of great price” by our efforts alone. More is needed to break the cyclotron of ego magnetism with its sheaths of karma which bind us.

Easter reflects the universal promise of immortality which is our soul’s true nature. Let us then celebrate this message as it has been embodied in the dramatic events of Jesus’ last days on earth.

[For more inspiration on this subject drawn from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple, Swami Kriyananda, I highly recommend the book, "Promise of Immortality." Written by Swami Kriyananda, it can be found at an East West Bookshop near you or at www.CrystalClarity.com. At Ananda near Seattle, we have a day-long retreat on Saturday, April 20, and a celebratory Easter Service on Sunday, April 21. www.AnandaWashington.org]